Our FLOW

At the ConferenceNo matter what happens, everything seems to work out how it’s supposed to. It might not be perfect; there will be quirks to be remedied, but in the end it will all come together. We had to have this mentality before the conference because that was the reality: we didn’t know exactly how the conference was going to work.

I think I can speak for myself, as well as the group, when I say the whole trip (conference, RadioLab Live, touring…and especially the food) worked out great.

Standing by the cups we had made ourselves, waiting for a curious conference attendee to walk by, I thought about the work we put in to get to that point. All those hours were paying off, but it’s not the “thanks for being here” or the “great job” comments that makes me satisfied with what we did.

What I’m excited about is the fact that we are making people think about something powerful, something that many had never pondered before.

More than one person I’ve interviewed said that they hadn’t thought about the idea of flow, especially the why, the how, and the when. All of them said they are glad that this made them do so. We were able to make that connection because we were all sharing ceramics, OUR version of flow.

One thing that has been consistent across all my interviews, especially all the artists and theater-folk at the conference: people love describing their flow. They get lost in the moment. They become so animated that they might even forget where they are or what they’re doing because they are describing their passion.

After interviewing my grandparents last week, I asked how long they thought their interviews were (because they thought 3 minutes would be hard to reach). Both interviews were well over 5 minutes, and BOTH of them underestimated the time of their interviews. Just as we all lose track of time in our flow, we get lost in the moment of describing our moments because that’s simply the power of FLOW (woah…).

During on of my interviews at the conference, something happened that hadn’t happened up to that point: I was asked a question. Was ceramics my flow? At first I hesitated, not expecting the question, and I admit it caught me off guard. Simply, I answered “yes” and described how each person involved had some sort of flow through this project, but it was so much more…

After the conference, I read an article by Brian Johnson that summarizes Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s (“mee-high” “cheeks-SENT-me-high”) book FLOW, and realized why the project created flow. Flow is described as the place between boredom and anxiety, “when challenges are balanced with a person’s capacity to act.” This project pushed all of us with time, effort, and creativity, but we were all capable, and as Johnson puts it, “when skills match the challenge? Enter flow!”

People never expected to receive a free cup, but just as often people never expected to talk about a moment so special to them, and standing beside the table seeing all seven of us doing interviews, I could almost feel the FLOW around the room.

Flow and Opportunity Cost

SAM_0041“Oh my, what beautiful cups you have here!” Countless times my peers and I were told some variation of this over the weekend at Harvard. These people walked in to the convention seeing tables filled with 200+ handmade cups with these strange codes on them. It seems like nothing to any of us here, for we spend so much of our free time immersed in the ceramics studio (maybe because we find our “flow” there…), then we told them to take one… and they stopped. Confused. Wondering. Questioning. A free cup?

This brought me back to my lesson one day in AP Economics. In an economical way, nothing in our world is free.  Unlimited wants with limited resources. Everything has a cost. I thought about our project, and these cups really aren’t free. We wanted to hear about the flow in other peoples’ lives. Where they experience this – what they experience there – and what it means to them. It was truly rewarding to share in this cycle of flow, for we found flow interviewing, making the cups, and using technology to add QR codes, and the people we interviewed talked about their own experiences with flow.

Yet that economic mindset remained with me. Which opportunity cost was greater? Which person gave up more?

We gave up a handmade cup. Cups that we spent time throwing, trimming, glazing, personalizing, and adding QR codes to were just given away. Sure ceramics comes easy to us, and a cup seems like nothing at this point, but some of them we added ourselves to. We found our flow when making them. We became attached to a few of them. We hid a few of them on shelves in the back in order to save them for ourselves, but they were found and taken.

They gave us interviews. They talked with complete strangers about something that’s vital to their well-being. They talked to us about emotional and physical conditions that they experience in their flow. Some of the stories were personal. Some of the people were a little hesitant about talking with complete strangers about this, but then again, they got a beautiful ceramic cup out of it.

So when it comes down to it, we had to give away something of our own that we made and loved, and they had to share experiences and emotions with complete strangers.

Though the question still remained, who had the greater opportunity cost?

I can’t speak for everyone, (although I’m sure I am) but for me a cup seems like nothing compared to hearing other experiences with flow. We gave away some great pieces, some that we may never be able to replicate the same way again, but giving up some cups in exchange for personal interviews, experiencing flow in the process? Well, that’s not free, it’s priceless.

Giveaway

IMG_3307A common question that we received today at the conference is “how much?” I love this question. I love it because I know that my answer to that question will completely catch them off guard and make them feel good. It’s exciting for me and the person asking. I am excited to see the reaction and they’re excited to hear that this cup is free of charge.

At Malvern we have been taught how to give our pieces away. Last year I participated in the mug assault which is where students make 25 well crafted mugs and give them away for free. You’d be surprised just how challenging this task is. Most people think that there is a catch behind the whole thing and others won’t even make eye contact. Either way we found a way to give almost all of them away.

We also have Empty Bowls where students, faculty, and family members throw bowls for an event to raise money for the homeless. Every bowl we make is given away and we usually will not see it again. But we do it for a greater cause and also because  it  just makes us feel good.

Aside from seeing someones reaction to us telling them it is a free cup – it goes a little deeper. You know that the person will hold on to that cup and whenever they look at that cup, they will think of us. It’s such an out of the ordinary thing that it sticks to us. For the potter, it feels good to know that something you made and put time into will be cherished and used as a spark for a memory. Giving work away creates such a strong connection that goes unnoticed. It’s a powerful thing and I think it is safe to say it is one of our most favorite things to do in ceramics.

Joe

Caught Red-Handed

red handed

I’ve been in the studio after classes every school day for the past month.  Seriously, it’s become a habit now.  I’m not saying that as a bad thing, in fact it’s sort of my fall sport; throwing red cups.  I love it.  Sometimes I work on classwork, but usually I’m “caught red-handed” with these cups and pitchers.

The funny thing is that we still have no clue what we’re doing.  Maybe I’m supposed to pretend we are old pros and not tell anyone that we’re struggling/working hard here.  Perhaps I’m the only one, but I think we all experience this challenge.  It’s a type of project that we have never done before, and we all kind of ignorantly agreed to.  When I was first told about the FLOW Project I thought it sounded very interesting and I wanted to help.  200 cups and interviews seemed like a lot, but we had 2 whole months so it couldn’t be that hard.  Then came the college application process.  Oh gosh, you don’t know how intense that is until you’ve spent every weekend either visiting, researching, sitting in on talk of, testing for, planning, writing essays for or applying to college.  So that cut deep into my time this fall.  Then of course there are your grades, because you need to keep getting those A’s :).  Overall, we were more time-restricted than I thought we’d be.

image (1)But one week from today, we’ll be completely done!  The show is next weekend so there’s no time for procrastination.  It came fast, and we still have a good amount of interviews and planning to do, but we can manage it.  So maybe this project taught me something about what I’m (we’re) capable of.  We faced a challenge new to all of us, but we boldly accepted it and hopefully will hit it out of the park.  And I really do mean WE.  The collaboration in this project was just off the charts.  I even switched some cups for interviews with a brother; 5 to be exact.  I enjoy the cup making more, though people really do have some interesting things to say.  He enjoys the interviewing more, so we made an arrangement.  Working toward each other’s strengths and interests just makes sense in my opinion.

I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish, and I hope other people can enjoy drinking out of the cups we made and listening to the interviews we’ve done.  In fact, they should listen to more than just the interview that the QR code on the cup sends them to.  The more they listen to the better.  More interviews = awesome.  The reason I think this is important is because I feel like I’ve become wiser with every interview I do.  Sometimes I just gain insight into the interviewee, which in itself is precious.  But other times I see a deeper meaning to some of the conversations.  I’ve done a lot of thinking because of this project and can’t wait until I listen to all of these interviews.  After the conference probably, or maybe on the way over to Boston?  Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read my post and God bless.

Drew

 

That Special Moment

photo (3)

Sir Ken Robinson signs a bowl made in our studio

I got to interview Sir Ken Robinson. I’ll let that sink in for a minute, because it was just as unexpected for me. Sir Ken Robinson, the man with the most-viewed TED Talk of all time.

It wasn’t just a coincidence, however. He came to speak at Malvern, and there was an opportunity to do something I could never do otherwise. For this project, we agreed to try for two ‘reach’ interviews, and needless to say I can cross one off my list.

This unique moment I had epitomizes my feelings for the interview process. At first, I wasn’t too sure about asking people for a five minute interview. It took as long to explain the project itself as to interview, so I wasn’t exactly jumping out of my seat to interview people. Last week I worked on getting a chunk of interviews done, and as the week went on my attitude changed. Each individual wasn’t just another interview out of the way, but a story. The interview gives me a chance to have a special conversation with people, some of whom I see everyday. I never knew that Luke B. loved scuba diving. Who could have known that seeing bubbles rising to the surface of the ocean gives him a calming feeling? The interview isn’t a burden to be carried, it has become my key into people’s lives, to peer in at a special moment that they have and share it with them.

From creative writing to riding motorcycles, the different moments of flow have come in all shapes and sizes (click over to interviews to hear more!). Do the ways we experience flow shape us, or do we choose our moments because of our own characteristics? This is just one interesting question I’ve thought about in the process, and hopefully by the end I will have an idea of an answer.

It was awesome to interview Sir Ken Robinson, but hearing every person’s moments of flow has been just as noteworthy, because of the chance to hear special moments in people’s lives.

-Dan

Selfless Flow

Joe

I find that through our many interviews people describe their flow activity as something they do alone that benefits them directly. I also feel that for some people they find flow in things they don’t even realize or take a notice to. The thing could also be used to benefit others and also bring the best out those people. It could be something like teaching or giving up your time in order to help other people. These things may sound to some people like things that are not too desirable or something they could become fully immersed in, but for those special people I think it is very possible. I believe that sometimes the activity itself may not be what we are totally in love with, but the outcome that makes the activity unquestionable and pass easily.

One of my teachers is a prime example of this.  If you look at the many things she is involved in, you find it hard to believe. And not only does she complete these tasks, she does it with a smile on her face. I know for the most of us, we see this and we might sometimes take this for granted. She consistently puts in long hours all so that she can see her students succeed.  She is at school at 7:30 for meetings carrying a box of doughnuts for the various activities she is involved in – and still there at 5:00, assisting students or working on school jobs.

Why is this?  Not many people I know could handle this type of workload that she takes on. I like to think that she takes a sense of flow into all these activities, knowing that she could potentially change these students’ lives. She knows that what she is doing now, although it may be tough, changes her students for the better.

This type of flow, in my opinion, is the best type there is. It is powerful, and it is so selfless and kind.

Ready, willing, and able red hands

Image (2)I found myself in a predicament this week at the wheel. For the past year, I have spent much of my spare time in the ceramics studio without even having a class, but most of this time was spent throwing bowls. From making them for Empty Bowls to just making them as gifts, bowls really became the only thing I made. It was what I enjoyed making, or maybe just what I was comfortable with, or maybe its just where I found my “flow”.

They say ceramics is like riding a bike – you never forget. This may be true, but I found that my hands no matter how hard I tried kept instinctively making that classic bowl shape. They all differ in some ways but always end up looking the same. From trying to make a teapot in my Ceramics III class, to the task of making 30 red cups, I became frustrated with myself.

But then I realized – this was perfectly natural. It takes a bit to get back into the swing of anything. Anyone who spends time in that studio has felt a struggle at the wheel in one way or another, and I am always willing to help in any way I can. The same was for people who helped me. My teacher and different classmates helped me get back into it. They guided my hands and did demos for me. I now have a leather hard teapot and 15 red cups on my shelf, all of which I am proud of.

I had to go home a few times with the dreaded red clay stain on my pants. The memories of struggling and being frustrated with the clay remained with me. But now I’ve made 15 cups, and the next 15 can be cranked out with one sitting at the wheel.

I now can make the teapot body and cups with ease, but only because some people helped me.  They and I went home with that same dreaded Brooklyn Red stain on our pants.

Brian